Jim Hanvey, Detective/Caveat Emptor
JIM HANVEY lolled upon a park bench, his ample and ungainly figure entirely surrounded by landscape. The fingers of his right hand clutched the stump of a cigar which for downright meanness was in a class alone. His fat and florid face was wreathed in contentment and his fishy eyes were partially curtained by heavy lids from beneath which Jim stared amusedly at a group of very small children who romped in shrill disdain of a sign which warned all and sundry that that particular grass was not to be trod upon.
The sun of early September was dropping slowly to rest behind the interminable line of apartment houses on the farther side of Central Park West. It sprinkled in golden radiance through the red leaves above Jim's uncovered head and mottled the rich green carpet beneath his enormous feet. Jim's eyes closed slowly as he luxuriously stretched his Gargantuan frame. Then the eyes opened to rest upon the trim figure of a little girl of six who stood regarding him with an expression of grave but frank interest.
“Hmm!” Jim pulled himself together. “Good evening.”
The child made no answer. A spot near Jim's mid-section held her undivided attention. The unwieldy detective matched the child’s gravity with his own. She was a pretty little thing whose raiment, even to Jim's untutored eyes, bespoke extreme affluence. At length, with absolute ease of manner, she moved forward and touched with her fore-finger, the gold toothpick which hung suspended from the heavy watch chain spanning Jim's ill-fitting vest.
“That's pretty,” she commented abruptly.
Jim's face lighted with pleasure. It was seldom indeed that his pet bit of personal ornamentation received so genuine a compliment.
“Yup. Awful pretty.” Then, doubtfully. “What is it?”
Jim touched a button and a wicked and glistening point appeared. “A toothpick,” he explained.
“It's—well, you see——” His face went blank. “Just a toothpick, that's all. Solid gold.”
“Oh!” said the child. “I see.”
Jim felt relieved. He fancied it might be difficult to explain a solid gold toothpick and he thanked goodness for the youngster's erudition. She continued to finger the bauble approvingly but, so far as she was concerned, the conversation was at an end.
The silence proved somewhat embarrassing to Jim. It was entirely too impersonal for his friendly nature. “What's your name?”
“That's a pretty name, Pauline. Where do you live?”
A touch of imitative snobbishness displayed itself in the answer of the little girl. “Riverside Drive. My father is a very rich man and we have three automobiles.”
“Wonderful. Astounding. And what is your father’s name?”
“Mr. Noah Lathrop. He's an emporter.”
“An emporter, eh?” Remembrance came to the detective. “Sure. Sure enough he is. A joolry importer, isn't he?”
“Yup. An' we got three automobiles.”
“That certainly is wonderful, Pauline. I’m awful glad to know about them automobiles. I guess your daddy's business must be awful good.”
“No,” confessed the child frankly. “Father says it's gone to hell.”
Jim was a trifle nonplussed. “That's too bad. I’m real sorry to hear it, Pauline.”
Once again the wordless, contemplative stare of the child. “You’re awful fat.”
“So I’ve heard.”
“And you look ugly,” she finished. “But you ain't.”
“That’s a relief. I aint no blue-ribbon entry, at that.”
“I like that gold thing,” continued Pauline. “But I bet you aint got three automobiles.”
“No. I bet I aint.”
“My Father has, and he says——”
“Pauline!” The voice of a woman came inquiringly through the Soft air of a gradually gathering dusk. “Oo-oh! Pauline.”
“That's my nurse,” she explained to Jim Hanvey. “She gets twenty dollars a week. Her name is Mary.”
Jim's eyes turned slowly toward the trim little uniformed figure which was bearing down upon them. Faint stirrings of recollection occurred in the detective's brain. The figure—the face—the voice—— And now Mary had taken Pauline's hand.
“I told you not to run away from that summerhouse. I’ve been looking everywhere for you.” She exhibited genuine concern—and relief. Pauline appeared not at all interested.
“This man has got a gold toothpick,” she announced triumphantly. “But he aint got three automobiles.”
The nurse turned toward the big man with a smile of quiet apology on her lips. Her eyes met the glassy orbs of the detective; and the smile congealed. The color receded from her cheeks and it was patent that she was struggling to recover a poise suddenly lost.
The detective blinked with maddening slowness. “Hello Mary,” he said. “How's Tim?”
The trim little woman in the nurse's uniform stood rigid for a moment. Then she turned to the child. “Run on and play with the other children a few minutes,” she ordered. Pauline obeyed willingly enough. The nurse stood regarding Hanvey apprehensively, and eventually the mammoth detective punctured the silence.
“Why the disguise, Mary?”
She spoke in tones so low as to be scarcely audible. “It isn’t a disguise, Jim.”
“No-o? Last time I seen you——”
“Never mind that,” she said nervously. “I’m runnin’ straight now. Lay off.”
“Goshamighty, Mary—I aint aiming to do nothin' else. I’m just curious.”
“I tell you everything's all right.”
“Sure it is. But why the job? What you doin' nursin' a kid?”
He could discern the struggle which she was undergoing. And finally she seated herself beside him. “There aint a thing wrong, Jim. Honest there aint. I’ve just been workin' since they sent Tim up.”
“He’s in stir?”
“Didn't you know?”
“I heard somethin’ about it—but the case wasn't exactly in my line as I remember. Gov'ment, wasn’t it?”
She nodded. “Smuggling.”
“They caught him with the goods. He pleaded guilty. He's doing a two-year stretch in Atlanta. He left me flat—that's why I went to work. I got a nursing job because I naturally like kids. I had to do somethin’.”
“Mm!” Jim's face betrayed no particular interest. If there was doubt of her in his mind he did not show it. “Funny—you workin’ as a nursegirl while Tim is doing a stretch. Well—I sure hope you stay on the straight an’ narrow. It don’t pay awful good but it's real safe.”
She sighed with relief. “I’m not pulling anything, Jim. I'm on the level—anyway until Timmy gets out.”
She summoned her youthful charge and they walked off together toward the Seventy-second street gate. Jim stared speculatively after them. He groped blindly for a match and relighted his cigar. Then, as he inhaled deeply, he gave vent to an expression of doubt——
“Wonder what she lied to me for?”
His somnolent eyes half closed and as he lay back in his seat there came to him the faint limning of the picture in which she had appeared at the occasion of their last meeting—a bank job in Omaha, a successful bank job in which he knew that she had been the brains of the gang. Jim held a great admiration for that little woman; she was courageous and she was clever; she played her cards well and she played them boldly. That last case had been one of his few unsuccessful ones and he had been more than half glad of it. He had been out to get them, but, failing, he felt nothing of resentment—only a keen admiration for the brains which had outwitted him.
But a few minutes since he had seen Mary Lannigan flustered for the first time in the several years of their acquaintanceship. That discomfiture bespoke guilt. Hanvey’s fat fingers groped for the gold toothpick so lately admired by Pauline Lathrop. That golden horror was of inestimable assistance to Hanvey in moments of mental stress. Mary working as a nursegirl. Hmph! There was something behind that—bound to be. Jim Hanvey was reputed to know intimately every worthwhile crook in the country and he counted Tim and Mary Lannigan as among his very best friends. Jim knew, for instance, that Tim had a young fortune salted away and that it was not at all necessary for his wife to work as a menial while he enjoyed the hospitality of the United States government. That being the case, Mary's present occupation was the cloak for something. He was sorry—darn shame Mary couldn't keep straight. Good kid. “An' dog-gone her—she’s gone an’ got me all interested.”
At first Jim determined to play hands off. He wasn’t a policeman; it was no duty of his to make trouble for crooks who were not engaged in work which held his immediate attention. But there was some thing bizarre in the very thought of this excessively clever little woman acting as nursemaid to a snippy little girl who boasted of her father's trio of motor cars. Two other facts paraded before him, demanding that he adduce something from their proximity to one another.
One of them was that the father of the girl whom Mary nursed was a jewelry importer.
The second fact had to do with Tim Lannigan's incarceration for smuggling. Smuggling was not in Tim’s line.
That night Jim reluctantly omitted his regular picture show and did a little investigation. Information came readily to hand principally because Jim knew just where to turn. When he retired near midnight he knew considerably more about Mary Lannigan's job, but there were one or two blank spaces which had aroused his curiosity beyond measure.
One vital thing he had learned—and that was that the name of Noah Lathrop had been mentioned more than casually in the case which resulted in Tim's journey to Atlanta. Just what Lathrop had to do with it no one could adequately explain, but there was undeniably a sinister significance.
He was at the park again the following day but Mary and the child did not appear. The next afternoon Jim was on Riverside Drive at the hour he knew a nurse would naturally go walking. Pauline recognized him first, nor, in the eagerness with which she greeted him, did he lose sight of the apprehension which blanched the pretty face of Mary Lannigan.
“That,” proclaimed the tactful Pauline, designating Jim's gold toothpick, “is vulgar.”
“Gentlemen,” she explained, “do not use gold toothpicks.”
Jim turned quizzically to Mary. “Aint she the bright kid?” He grew serious then—“Come out of it, Sister. I aint gonna eat you.”
He walked with them to Central Park. In response to his unspoken command, Mary sent Pauline to play with the other children and she and Jim sat together on the bench. It was Jim who spoke first, after he had lighted one of his offensively fragrant cigars.
“Get me straight, Mary—I don’t want to cause you no trouble … but you’ve got my curiosity aroused something terrible.”
For a moment she didn't answer. She sat staring at the path where her toe was etching aimlessly in the dust. And finally she faced him with a flash of her old-time spirit. “I want you to lay off, Jim. I’m not pulling anything crooked.”
“If you’re runnin' straight I aint got no choice, have I?”
“How you make that?”
“You can queer things for me—and,” earnestly, “I don’t want ’em queered, Jim—I don’t want 'em queered.”
There was a little break in her voice which puzzled him. She was deeply moved—that, in itself, was a novelty. He took her hand gently between both of his enormous ones and patted it as a father might have done.
“I aint tryin’ to butt in on your affairs, Sister, but I’d like to get the lowdown on this. I’ll say right off—wait a minute, I'll come clean with you before you spill anything. You got me curious night before last with that straight stuff an’ all. I know—an' you know I know—that Tim has a pile salted away which means that I didn’t swallow your bunk about needin' the twenty-per-an’-cakes you’re gettin' for nursin’ that kid which has a father who owns three automobiles.
“As I say, that sort of started me off an’ I did a little checking up on my own hook. I learned, among other things, that Noah Lathrop's name sort of figured in the smugglin’ case which sent Tim South—that indicatin’ pretty clear that you ain’t workin’ in Lathrop's house for no reason which ought to make Lathrop comfortable. So knowin’ what I know, if you want to loosen up—why, go right to it Sister an’ I’ll be all ears, like any other jackass.”
Her head was bowed and it was plain that she was thinking intensively. On the grass nearby the children romped, their shrillings cutting through the balminess of the September evening. From Central Park West came the clanging of Eighth avenue cars and the occasional sirening of automobile traffic. A man and woman on horseback rode down the bridle path near them and a park policeman strolled by and ostentatiously looked away as he, with considerable surprise, recognized the obese Hanvey.
At length she commenced speaking, her voice coming as though from a great distance. “It’s important, Jim, first of all, that you understand I’m telling the truth. If there's anything I say that aint true—it aint because I think it aint. I’m giving you the works as I know 'em. I’m telling you—well, first of all, because I want to get it off my chest. And second, because you'd get wise anyway. And third, because— Oh! just because.
“I’ll commence right at the beginnin', Jim. It started six months ago when Tim went to Europe. You know he's a real gent and every once in so often he works the card graft on the big steamers—not often enough for them to know him. Only when business is dull.
“Well, he was over there loafing around waiting for a certain party to sail for America again, this party being the grandest sucker which ever stood a couple of raises for the privilege of drawin’ to an in-between straight. About that time Mr. Noah Lathrop was in Paris doing some jewelry buying. He goes over there once or twice every year. His firm is one of the biggest on Maiden Lane. And in Paris at the same time Lathrop and Tim were, was Walter Yeager.”
“Yeager?” Hanvey exhibited keen interest. “In Paris?”
“Yeh. All set for a job. An’ get this, Jim—I aint tryin' to get Walt in bad. He's had a tough enough time already. But even if Walt does run foul of trouble I can't help it. I’m out to do what I can for Tim … that's all I’m thinking of.”
Again that little catch in her voice. Jim closed his glassy eyes sleepily and motioned for her to continue.
“To hold a long story down, Walt Yeager was onto something soft in Paris. He pulled the job and got away with it—about three hundred and fifty thousand dollars worth of stones that are stones. It turned the Paris police inside out and stood 'em on their ear. It was as nifty a piece of work as you’ve ever heard of, an’ Walt got away with it in a way you’d be proud of if you knew the details.
“Well, there was Walt with the jewels and nothin’ to do with 'em. The European markets had nine eyes peeled an’ Walt didn’t dare bring 'em to this country because when he came through the customs there'd be a stir and a talk—and flooie! So, Walt hearing that Lathrop was doin’ his semi-annual buying, an’ knowing that he wasn't more than ten miles above a shady transaction, went to him, confessed that he had stolen jewels and asked him what they’d be worth in cash, delivered at Lathrop's New York office.
“Lathrop was interested, of course. It was a graft for him. He'd run no risk buying the stuff in New York and since his house has a first class rep he knew he could slip 'em on the market one by one and the trade would never be no wiser. They dickered around for awhile and agreed on one hundred and forty thousand dollars cash, F. O. B. Maiden Lane. And that's where Tim was pulled into the deal.
“Walt Yeager wasn’t willing to declare those jewels at the customs and he wasn’t game to try and smuggle 'em. So he told Lathrop that in order to carry the deal through Lathrop must hire some one to do the smuggling. Yeager and Lathrop both inquired around and learned that Tim was over there—he bein’ at that time in Bremen waiting for his sucker friend. He had gone there from Paris. Lathrop went to Germany, found Tim and offered him five thousand dollars for the job of smuggling.
“Tim grabbed it. It seemed like a cinch. And that’s where Lathrop done Tim dirt—because,” she turned her blazing eyes on Jim Hanvey—“the dirty crook never told Tim that the jewels he was supposed to smuggle was stolen goods!”
Jim nodded heavily. “I see. … Lathrop was dishonest. Even with Tim.”
“Exactly. And he played safe seven different ways. He saw to it that Tim and Walt Yeager engaged passage on a French liner for New York and he had it framed with Walt that he wasn’t to say a word to Tim until they were pretty close to the customs when all Walt was to do was to turn the stuff over to Tim, watch Tim smuggle it through and then get it back from him and deliver it to Lathrop. Tim was to make the trip knowing that some one was going to slip him some jewels just before they got to customs. And as true as I’m telling you, Jim, he didn't know it was nothing more than a smuggling job. It never occurred to him that there might be something behind it.
“Lathrop never even come back on the same ship with them. He sailed a week ahead from Southhampton. Tim and Walt came over together from Havre and a couple days before they reached New York, Walt slipped Tim the stuff.
“Well, there aint any use botherin' you with details about how Tim tried to work it. It’s enough to say that they nabbed him. Caught him dead to rights. Tim was sorry, but he wasn’t really worried. He knew all he had to do was to get in touch with Lathrop ——” her hand went out and tightened grimly over Jim's flappy paw—“Lathrop welched. Welched like a dirty yeller dog. He said he didn’t know Tim, hadn't never seen him before, and had nothing whatever to do with the case. Meanwhile Tim, feeling secure, had pleaded guilty to the smuggling charge.and a heap of influence would be used to get him a fine instead of a jail sentence and that Lathrop would pay the fine. But
“And it wasn't until after he pleaded guilty to that, Jim—and Walt Yeager had disappeared—that Tim learned how bad he was in. Because the jewels he had admitted smuggling were the ones which had been stolen in Paris and they were recognized instanter. That's where Tim was crossed up. It wasn’t that they nabbed him for smuggling—he was guilty of that and willing to take his medicine. But he wasn’t mixed up in the robbery. …
“And here's the lay of the land now. Tim got two years in the Federal prison for smuggling. He's been there seven months. The jewels have been returned to Paris. Yeager has disappeared. Noah Lathrop swears he don’t know nothing about anything crooked. And when Tim gets through serving his smuggling time, Jim—they’re going to send him back to Paris to stand trial for stealing them jewels.”
Her voice trailed off. Jim blinked with maddening slowness and turned his apparently sightless eyes upon a pert little squirrel nearby. But his voice was charged with keenest sympathy——
“They’ve got him dead to rights, sure enough, aint they, Mary?”
“Yes,” with fierce bitterness, “they have. He hasn't a leg to stand on. It's twenty or twenty-five years in a French prison for him. He was in Paris when the robbery occurred—no chance to prove an alibi. He tried to smuggle the stones. He was caught red handed. He confessed to the smuggling. Lathrop was in the clear—what's Tim's word against his? And I–well, I don’t mind the two years Tim is doing: he went into that with his eyes open … but Jim—I’m out to save Tim from doing a twenty year stretch for something he never even knew about. That's what I’m doing, Jim. Now do you understand?”
Jim nodded a ponderous affirmative. “I sure do, Mary. I sure do. But I still don’t quite savvy this nurse stuff.”
Her voice came crisply now in response to the warm friendliness of the detective's tone. “Any man who will do what Noah Lathrop did is the dirtiest kind of a crook. He's poison mean and low-down and rotten. You never knew a first class crook who would welch like that, did you?”
“No-o. Not no decent crook.”
“Neither did I. And I figured out if Lathrop was that crooked—it wasn’t the first time. He's a prominent man and he's proud. He must have slipped before. It's a certainty that some time in his life he's done something just as rotten as the trick he pulled on Tim. Oh! I wouldn’t be kicking if he’d come clean with Tim in the first place and told him it was stolen stuff. It was the double-crossing and then the welching that hurt. And the fact that Tim is innocent. A crook has a hard enough life serving time for what he really does, let alone what he don’t do.
“That's why I worked around and got this job as nursegirl in Lathrop's home. I’ve got a room on the place, and I’m watching, Jim—I’m watching close. I’m learning a heap about that bird. He's rotten all the way through—a cheap, piking, safety-first crook. Smug and self-satisfied and so stuck on himself I want to kill him sometimes. Of course he don't dream I know Tim Lannigan or that I’m anything except what I seem.”
“And some day, Jim, I’m gonna get something on Noah Lathrop—something that he'd rather die than see come out. And when I do I’m gonna make him sing. I’m gonna make him come out in the clear and save Tim from doing that stretch in France.” She threw her arms wide in an unconsciously dramatic gesture—“That’s why I'm working as a nursegirl in his house, Jim—that’s why.”
Pauline Lathrop appeared and demanded two cents with which to purchase an apple-on-a-stick. She accepted the money from Jim but again expressed her disdain for the vulgar toothpick. “And your cigars smell terrible.”
Jim sighed. “I reckon they do. But I like 'em.”
“You’re a funny man,” said the child.
Pauline departed joyously to purchase her confection. Jim turned friendly eyes upon the tiny, indomitable figure of the little woman by his side. He tchk’d once or twice and mopped his forehead with a lavender handkerchief.
“You’ll lay off me, won't you, Jim?”
“You’ll give me a free hand in this matter, won’t you? Let me play it my own way?”
He thought for a moment before replying. And then, slowly and deliberately he shook his head.
He saw her figure stiffen, watched the delicate hands ball into tiny fists. “Jim. …” There was horror and unbelief in her tone.
“Nope, Mary—I aint gonna play hands off in this little game of yours. Not for a minute. I can't.” He, with difficulty crossed one enormous leg over the other. “But I tell you what I will do,” he volunteered conversationally.
His voice was toneless.
“I’ll help you.”
For a second she did not move. “You—you'll help?” she choked.
“H-h-help me to clear Tim?”
She faced him then, her face flushed and radiant, the light of happiness flaming from her fine eyes. “Jim Hanvey!” she said, “I love you for that!”
He fidgeted in embarrassment. “It is kinder funny—a detective workin’ for a crook. But it's something I’ve always wanted to do. Of course, I mightn't be of any help——”
“You will, Jim. You will. Oh! it's wonderful. I’ve been so alone——”
“Aw! dry up, Sister. It’s my job to nab the whole bunch of you when you’ve done something to be nabbed for. But I like you—every one of you—and I’m damned if I can sit back and see you go up for something you didn’t do. Specially when you’ve been double-crossed by an honest man.”
And long after she and little Pauline had disappeared beyond the traffic of Central Park West, long after gray dusk had merged gently into velvet night, long after the shrill playcalls of children had been superseded by the low-toned dialogue of occasional passing couples and the insistent, rythmic k-chnk, k-chnk of oarlocks from the adjacent lake—long after all of that Jim Hanvey sat upon his park bench and mused upon the vagaries of circumstance.
Jim Hanvey had experienced a long, a colorful, a varied career. Now, for the first time, he found himself embarked upon a professional enterprise on behalf of a criminal, the object of his attack being a person in that class of society for which men such as Jim Hanvey served as bulwark.
The situation was bizarre—rather outrageously so, but it held an irresistible appeal to Jim. He was a lonely man who counted his friends among those whom he professionally hunted. The better class of criminals knew Jim and liked him. They outwitted him if they could—but they played straight with him, just as he did with them. To most of them it was a source of wonderment that he had not long since joined their ranks. In answer to their frank questionings he invariably returned an answer astounding in its simple logic——”
“A feller is either born crooked or straight. I was born straight—that's all. You can’t blame me for that any more than I can blame you for bein’ crooked.”
But now he was to attain the unspoken ambition of many years: he was to expend his talents in an effort to free one of his criminal friends from an unjust charge. Let Tim Lannigan serve his time for smuggling—he was guilty. But Jim had checked up on Mary’s story and knew that she had spoken the truth. That being the case it behooved him to see that Tim served a sentence for what he had done and was extricated from the predicament into which he had blundered.
That he had undertaken a task of no mean proportions was plain to him. In this particular matter the position of Noah Lathrop was impregnable. There was no possible proof that Lathrop had connived with Walter Yeager to purchase the stolen gems. There was even less proof that Noah had hired Tim to do the smuggling. Certainly there was no chance to enlist the services of Walt Yeager. It wasn't Walt's fault, anyway. He had played fair with both Tim and Lathrop by the tenets of the criminal code. It was unfortunate that Lathrop had betrayed Tim—but it was too much to expect that Walt would do anything so absurdly Quixotic as to confess to the robbery in order to save Lannigan. And there wasn't even an outside chance to convict Yeager of the original theft.
Mary Lannigan had the correct idea. A man as crooked as Lathrop had shown himself to be in this instance had been crooked before. He would be crooked again. He had indicated that he was moulded of conscienceless stuff. Somewhere in his past there must be a skeleton which he would not care to have displayed. And in order to prevent that display he might even be willing to confess his guilt as a smuggling accessory. In that way—and in that way alone—Tim Lannigan could be saved from facing trial— and certain conviction—for the crime which he had not committed.
Jim first of all boarded the Southern for Atlanta where he had two long and earnest conversations with Tim Lannigan. Tim's story verified that of Mary in every way. The big, handsome, red-headed crook was pitifully embarrassed at the knowledge that Jim was working for him. Too, he made no attempt to conceal his emotion at tidings of Mary’s activity in his behalf. Jim found him bitter against Lathrop and not at all so against Walt Yeager. “Poor Walt! He was crossed up pretty near as bad as I was. And he's flat now. Gosh! To think of getting away with a job like that and then have a falldown. It's tough!”
“Sure is,” agreed Jim.
Acquainting himself with Noah Lathrop's personality without meeting that gentleman was a more difficult undertaking. He made occasion to be near him two or three times when Lathrop was unconscious of the sleepy-eyed surveillance. Jim found Lathrop a rather undersized, slender man of obtrusive pomposity and disagreeable manner. He spoke in a loud, nasal voice which carried unpleasantly a considerable distance and his utterances were all dogmatic. Jim found his Great-I-Am attitude annoying and at the same time amusing. There was a laughable similarity between father and daughter. Jim could well fancy the boast of the man——
“I pay four thousand a year for my apartment on the Drive and I maintain three cars.” Jim's big fingers fumbled with the gold toothpick. Somehow, it seemed a little less vulgar than Pauline had led him to believe.
Jim held frequent conferences with Mary Lannigan. She had nothing to report but there was no lessening of confidence or determination. He was amused by her grim defiance—the indomitable will to power behind the masklike manners and pretty, girlish face. No wonder the smugly complacent Noah Lathrop was unsuspicious of the dynamite within his house; to all appearances Mary was merely an innoculously pretty young woman temporarily engaged in the nursing profession—against the day when she would be carried off to wife by some six-foot truck driver.
“I know I’m right, Jim. The man's rotten all the way through—and he handled this affair in a way which proves that it aint the first time he's pulled something. Sometimes when I watch him I get mad enough to scream—I can imagine him chuckling to himself about his cleverness. Not a thought for the man who he thinks is going to do the long stretch in France.” Her teeth clicked suddenly. “Oh! what's the use of letting myself get all worked up? I guess my game is to lay low and keep grinning.”
“You said it, Sister. And when you get something on him—talk it over with me. We’ll make him dance a hornpipe.”
She looked up gratefully into his expressionless eyes. “You can do that, Jim. Until you promised to help I was only a crook without a chance. I didn’t know what I was going to do when I found what I was hunting.”
Jim shrugged. “It’s you who's got to do the discoverin', Mary. Just keep those bright eyes wide open——”
“I sure ain’t gonna do nothin’ else.”
“—And let me know every least little thing that goes on. Listen in on his dining room conversation all you can. A feller as stuck on himself as that bimbo—an’ as crazy about hearin’ himself talk—is certain to blab something around the house.” Jim lighted a cigar. “He may even have some interestin' papers lyin' around.”
“No,” she said with perfect candor, “I’ve searched everything. Even the safe.”
“Good. He rose heavily to his feet. “Keep it up, Sis. We’ve got all the time in the world, plus—an’ the best thing we can do is to use it. By the way, how’s my little friend Pauline?”
The girl made a wry face. “Ugh! Nasty little minx.”
“Huh!” grinned Jim, “think what she'll be like at forty.”
A fortnight dragged by. Jim busied himself with routine matters without, however, allowing the main focus of his attention to waver from the Lannigan matter. Occasionally he made it a point to meet Mary in the park. She had nothing to tell him and he talked things over with her only for her own sake—to keep her courage and optimism keyed to the proper pitch. There was something heroic in her doggedness. He shook his head in wonderment at the thought that until recently she had been playing a lone hand—just as grim, just as determined—“I sort of reckon,” he mused, “that she sort of might be what you'd call kinder crazy about that Tim Lannigan.”
It was not until another week had passed that anything happened. It was early October and the air was chill with the portent of coming winter. Jim Hanvey was sprawled on the lounge in the untidy living room of his apartment reading the pugilistic news in a current sporting weekly. The air was fetid with the odor of his vile cigar, his stockinged feet were cocked upon the table and he had allowed his flowered suspenders to drop comfortably about his tremendous waist. It was a considerable effort to answer the summons of the telephone and his voice was none too gentle——
“Hey! Hello! What you ringin' so much about?”
“Jim? This is Mary.”
His expression altered like magic. He caught the nuance of excitement in her carefully modulated tones.
“Are you alone?”
“Can I come up—now?”
“You tell 'em. I’ll fix it with the telephone boy so’s he won’t start no scandal.”
A half hour later she was with him. She threw open the window despite his protest. His eyes were fixed steadily upon the attractive vividity of her face. Then he yawned and appeared to sink into an indifferent lethargic doze. It was only when she had drawn up a chair and placed her hands on his arm that the sleepy eyes uncurtained with an indication of interest.
She found difficulty in selecting a starting point, and when she did eventually speak it was with an incoherence which was rather unusual— “He’s slipping, Jim—and I’m watching.”
“You don't say.”
“Yes—I do. I knew it would come … if I just watched close enough. Of course I’ve had to keep pretty much out of the way and I haven’t learned all that I might, but—”
“At that,” interjected Jim dryly, “you learned a heap more an' a heap faster than I am now.”
She laughed—a semi-hysterical little quaver—and pulled herself together. “Jim, Noah Lathrop is up to something.”
Jim nodded in satisfaction. “Good.”
“He’s had a visitor at the house for the last two evenings. Who do you think it is?”
“How many guesses do I get?”
Her eyes burned into his, her voice trembled.
Jim nodded ponderously and, although his expression lost none of its impassivity, his tone indicated a lively interest.
“Teddy Nelson, eh?”
“Yes—Teddy. And they’re talking turkey.”
“Teddy usually does.”
The girl sat back and inspected the bovine face of the detective. “You got any recent suspicions of Teddy?”
Jim's head inclined. “Have you?”
Unconsciously, she lowered her tone. “He’s got the Rawlings' pearls.”
Jim yawned with his eyes. “Right the first time, Sis. You take the head of the class.”
“Sure. An' I ain't the only dick which does. They've been watchin’ Teddy ever since them pearls were stolen. The only reason they didn’t nab him long ago was because they didn’t know where he had 'em—it wasn’t gonna do ’em a bit of good to grab Teddy unless they got the pearls, too.”
She shook her head slowly—“I didn’t know they suspected Teddy of that job. …”
“There ain't but a half dozen men in the country could of done it,” explained Jim, “an’ Teddy was the only one with a perfect alibi, so they knew it was him. But it ain’t Teddy they’re after—it's the stuff.”
“So-o … and you think he's trying to sell 'em to Lathrop?”
“It’s a cinch. He can’t sell 'em nowhere's else. There ain't a fence would dare handle 'em and the easiest way they could be put on the market would be through a first class wholesale jewelry house. Yeh—I reckon Mr. Noah Lathrop is just about aimin’ to slip his head into a noose.”
The girl rose to her feet and paced the room. “It’s the first thing I’ve discovered … I wish I thought he’d dare buy those things—I wish we could catch him with the goods.”
Jim's toneless voice came as though from another room. “You keep those eyes of your’n peeled, Mary. If he's gone this far with the deal the chances are he'll go through. An’ if you can get wise to the hour when they pull it I’ll be on hand. …”
“You think they’ll do it at home?”
“Surest thing you know. A guy as keen as Lathrop ain’t riskin' a deal like that in his office; he wouldn't even let Teddy come there if he knew what he was comin’ for. Yeh, Sis, I reckon they’ll put it through at home. So all you got to do is watch an’ keep me posted.”
“And what will you do?”
“My durndest—that's all I can promise.”
“That's more than enough, Jim—a heap more than enough.”
Jim flushed slightly—“Don’t you go countin' on me too strong. You can remember at least one case where I fell down something awful an’ there ain't no certainty I won't flop this one.”
Mary had the grace to blush. “I’m sorry about that, Jim.”
“Ah gwan! I ain’t. It was a pleasure to have you put it over me. Say, listen—some day I want the lowdown on that, Mary.”
The girl departed and then for three days he heard nothing from her. On the fourth day she telephoned him to meet her in Central Park.
“Teddy was there again last night.”
“Yes—for three hours. And this morning I heard
Mr. Lathrop breaking a dinner engagement he had for tonight.”
“So you sort of reckon maybe tonight's the night?”
“Yes. … I’m pretty sure it’s an attempt to sell Lathrop the Rawlings' pearls. I did a bit of listening last night and I heard something of what they were saying—about having the cash there. … I guess poor Teddy is glad to get them off his hands at any price.”
“Yeh—I reckon he is. They ain't nothin’ now but a li’bility. Hmm! Reckon I better stick around this evenin’.”
They put their heads together then in an earnest discussion of details. And when Jim rose heavily to his feet a half hour later and waddled away through the trees the girl looked after him with an expression which would have brought a warm glow to the sentimental heart of the big detective had he glimpsed it. Somehow the sun seemed to shine with unusual friendliness that afternoon upon the slim figure of the girl in the nurse's uniform, and she felt suddenly very close to her big, handsome husband in the Atlanta prison.
She had never quite recovered from her amazement at Jim's position in this case. She had always liked Jim but the idea that he might some day assist her—a professional criminal—in a matter involving the possible freeing of her criminal husband—had been beyond the realm of possibility.
True, thus far Jim had done very little and that little with his customary modest unobtrusiveness. His chief aid had been in moral support, in a willingness to talk things over. What had really been accomplished had been the result of her own unremitting vigilance … but the hour was approaching when Jim was to play a leading rôle. At the moment of dénouement she would have been sadly handicapped without him—and she knew it, for there was no possible chance of publicity without an airing of her own unsavory reputation.
With Jim as an ally all was different. The very knowledge that he was helping her imparted a strength and a courage far beyond anything she had theretofore experienced. And he had promised to be watching from across the street that night—to be awaiting her signal.
Darkness settled early over the Drive, a deep, cloudy darkness punctured by the faint twinkling of lights from the Jersey shore, the sparkle of apartment house windows, glaring arrows of brilliance from the head lamps of speeding automobiles and lumbering busses. From a window in the Lathrop apartment Mary Lannigan fancied that she could discern the overlarge figure of Jim Hanvey bulking in the gloom across the way. She returned to her own little cubbyhole of a room and waited—waited, it seemed, for an eternity.
And eventually there came the ringing of a telephone and Lathrop himself answered. She heard his voice bidding the operator to send the gentleman up. A few minutes later Lathrop opened the door of his apartment and then Mary heard footsteps in the hallway and she opened her door in time to see Lathrop and Teddy Nelson disappear into the library.
Jaw firm and eyes steady, Mary Lannigan proceeded with meticulous care. Fortunately, Mrs. Lathrop was out that evening—“Gadding about like she always does. …” and the butler was attending to affairs of his own. Mary had been left in charge of the complacently sleeping Pauline. She crept to the door of the library and applied an ear to the keyhole.
From inside came the wellnigh unintelligible murmur of voices. Occasionally one or the other of the men would become argumentative. It was plain that they were bargaining. Mary fancied that she could see the long-sought-for string of Rawlings pearls through the keyhole … and once she fancied that she heard the rustle of new paper money.
It was then that she went to a front window and, using an electric torch, flashed to Jim Hanvey the agreed signal. She tiptoed into Pauline's room and assured herself that the child was sleeping soundly. Then into the hallway again to resume her vigil. After an interminable wait there came a light tapping on the door. She opened it softly and admitted the mammoth detective.
“Goshamighty,” he whispered, “that boy downstairs didn’t want to let me come up.” He patted her shoulder reassuringly. “How's tricks?”
She detailed developments in a voice barely above a whisper. He nodded ponderous approval. “Fine stuff. Here’s where ol' sleuth gits in his dirty work, ain’t it?”
She designated the library door. “What'll I do, Jim?”
“Just stick around to look after the remains—if any.”
“You’re not expecting anything rough?”
“Naw. … Teddy ain't that kind unless he's changed a lot. But I’m gonna stage an awful play just to see whether a feller which owns three automobiles can turn green.”
She led him to the door and then withdrew into the shadows of an adjacent room. Jim patted down the ill-fitting coat which hung so grotesquely around his girthful figure and rapped once upon the door.
For a dramatic instant he stood motionless, then flung open the door and entered—blinking like a monster owl in the brilliant light.
Before him was an interesting tableau. Lathrop, motionless, was bending across the table inspecting a string of magnificent matched oriental pearls. Beside him was a pile of crisp, new one-hundred dollar bills. His lean, rather saturnine, face, still reflected the avarice of a moment since although an expression of stark terror was now slowly robbing him of his naturally aggressive unpleasantness.
Opposite sat Teddy Nelson—suave, dapper, perfectly at ease. Nelson's experienced eyes rested briefly upon the intruder and a close observer could have noticed the visible effort with which he pulled himself together. Too, it was Nelson who broke the portentous silence. That insouciant criminal rose to his feet, bowed with exaggerated politeness and spoke in a quiet conversational tone—
“Mr. Hanvey—this is indeed a pleasure.”
Jim was enjoying himself thoroughly. He produced a pink silk handkerchief and mopped his forehead. “'Lo Teddy.”
Nelson waved a comprehensive hand toward Lathrop, the pearls and the money. As yet the astounded jewelry importer had not moved; he sat staring in bewilderment from one to the other.
“You will notice, Jim,” said Nelson, “that you have nothing on me. My host is in possession of the money and also of the pearls which I presume you are seeking.”
Hanvey grinned. “You’re a hard egg, Teddy.”
“You are hunting for some pearls, are you not, Jim?”
“Well—in all probability you have them. I am willing to explain, Jim, that I never saw those pearls before—I’m as positive of that as I am that I shall never see them again.” He made a rueful little grimace. “Business is pretty rotten these days.”
Lathrop was getting a grip on himself. He rose unsteadily and addressed the detective. “Who are you?”
The suggestion of a sneer wreathed Nelson's lips. “You’re a pretty good little staller yourself, Lathrop.”
“What are you talking about?”
All sign of amusement departed from Teddy Nelson's face. He whirled furiously upon Lathrop. “You know damn good and well what I’m talking about. You trapped me into your apartment and brought a dick here—all right, so much for that. You thought you’d have me with the goods and you'd get the glory of having nabbed me. Why you poor fish, they’ve been after me for six months for this little job. They’ve laid off because they didn't know where the pearls were. They’ve got 'em now—but by God! they didn’t catch 'em on me. They're in your hands. You've got the money. I'm broke. There ain't a piece of evidence against me. And Jim Hanvey is square. I’m asking him to make you prove that you didn't steal those jewels.”
Lathrop stammered. He stared first at Nelson, then at the lethargic Hanvey. “A-a detective?” he muttered.
“Uh-huh.” It was Jim who answered. “A regular, honest-to-Gawd detective.” He flashed his badge and strode over to the table. He inspected the pearls briefly. “It’s that Rawlings’ stuff, ain’t it, Teddy?”
Nelson shook his head. “You can’t prove anything by me, Jim. Say listen——” he became very earnest. “Did this half-size imitation of a cigar clerk double-cross me?”
Jim shook his head slowly. “No-o. Not hardly. Because when you stop to consider things—that would have been a bum play for him. Y’see, Teddy, we’ve been watchin' this bird a long time—he was sort of mixed up in that Tim Lannigan affair and we figured he was worth lookin' after. An' we knew you had the Rawlings’ stuff. So when you and him got together we figured that two and two was pullin' their usual act. Y'see, we’ve got you, Teddy, for the Rawlings job—while all we send Lathrop to jail for is receivin' stolen goods.”
Lathrop tried to speak—and could not. His mouth opened and closed—then opened and closed again. His adams-apple bobbed alarmingly. His voice, when it did come, was shrill with hysteria—
“It’s a lie—a lie! I don’t know anything about this man. I don’t know anything about Lannigan. What he said I did was true—I was trying to prove that he stole these jewels.”
“The dirty liar. … ”
“Lay off,Teddy,” advised Jim. Then, to Lathrop—“You might as well come clear, buddy. I know how much money there is in that little pile and I know what bank you drew it from and at what time this morning. I know, too, that this ain’t the first time you’ve pulled a stunt like this—but I know it's gonna be the last. Now Teddy, if you come clean I’ll see that things are made light for you—light as I can have 'em made. Give me the lowdown on the job.”
Nelson eyed the detective levelly. “Straight, Jim?”
“Here's my hand on it. No promises—only the best I can do for you.”
“Well,” Nelson cleared his throat, “in that case I’d better come clean. There ain't no use confessing that I stole them pearls off old man Rawlings about a year ago. You know that an’ the insurance company detectives know it. They knew it so well that there wasn’t a chance for me to dispose of them through the regular channels, so when I heard that Lathrop was inclined to use his position as an honorable man to get away with an occasional dirty little job, I went to him and offered to sell and sell cheap——”
“No! It isn’t true. …” Lathrop's face was pitiful. “Nelson, please! This will all be used against you.”
“Sure—sure. And it’ll be used against you, too,” explained Jim casually.
Lathrop cowered as Nelson continued the story of their negotiations. When he finished Hanvey returned his attention to the figure of the terrified jeweler.
“My family—my child—my business——”
“You’re a fine slice of limburger,” complimented Jim. “I suppose you’ve been weeping your eyes out thinking about Tim Lannigan, haven't you?”
“Yes—Lannigan, the lad you double-crossed—got him to try an' smuggle in stuff that he didn’t know was stolen. Well, you're clear of the Lannigan case but we'll make you sweat for this. Ten years, maybe.”
“Please … for God’s sake—anything but that——”
Jim regarded him steadily. “Tim Lannigan is a good friend of mine, Lathrop. One of the best friends I have. It just occurs to me that we might make a little deal. … Interested?”
“Yes. Yes. Go on.”
“Well—all we’ve been after in this Rawlings affair is the stuff. We don’t care particularly about sending Teddy Nelson up. And since we’ve got the pearls … how about this: You sit down there and sign a confession that you hired Tim Lannigan to smuggle in those jewels. You can say that you didn’t know they were stolen—that it was simply a job on your part to beat the customs. That'll be proof enough that Tim didn't know they were stolen—and, of course, proof that he wasn’t mixed up in the original robbery which’ll keep him from serving twenty years or so in a French prison for something he didn’t do.”
Jim paused. He fancied that he could hear the rustling of skirts in the hallway. Lathrop looked up pleadingly—
“What can they do to me for that?”
“They can give you two years in the Federal prison—same as they did Lannigan. But they probably won’t. They did that to Lannigan because he was known as a professional crook. You'll most likely get off with a heavy fine—and it’ll clear Tim of that French stuff.”
“Are you telling me the truth?”
Teddy Nelson broke in, somewhat explosively— “Hell! Jim Hanvey ain't no liar.”
“You can choose,” explained Jim easily, “between that and a certain long stretch for this Rawlings affair.”
Lathrop looked up piteously. “I’ll do it,” he said at length. “Tell me what to write.”
Hanvey dictated slowly and carefully, and when he was finished he summoned Mary Lannigan to whom he read the confession. Then, with Mary as a witness, Noah Lathrop signed.
The following day Jim accompanied Mary Lannigan to the Pennsylvania Station whence she departed for Atlanta to break the gladsome news to her husband. She was tearfully grateful— “Aw! stow it, Sister—I didn’t do a darn thing except have a little fun. …”
From the train he went to an unpretentious hotel in the West Fifties where, a few moments later, he found himself alone with Teddy Nelson.
Teddy was very much at ease. He waved his hand airily— “Have a seat, Jim. Make yourself comfortable.” Then, defensively— “But leave that nickel-plated cigar case in your pocket. I don’t mind talking to a detective but I’m not willing to smell his cigars.”
Jim ignored the request. And as the first horrid blast of cigar smoke assailed Teddy, Jim vouchsafed a bit of information—
“I fixed it for you, Teddy. Saw Simpson and Clarke this morning—gave 'em the pearls. They were so tickled it was a cinch getting them to promise to lay off you.”
Nelson sighed relievedly. “Great stuff, Jim. I’ve been hanging on to those things for a year—knowing that I didn’t have a chance to get rid of 'em, and hating to heave 'em in the river. Now they’re safely gone and I’ve helped a pal. Gee!” he smiled— “I’ll bet Tim is gonna be happy when he hears the news.”
“You tell 'em, Teddy. But not near as happy as Mary was when things come out all right. She sure done wonders for Tim——”
“Wonders, me eye. It was you who did it all, Jim. Wasn't it you who came to me in the first place and suggested that I approach Lathrop on this deal? Didn't you wise me up to the whole works and show me how it’d be a better thing for everybody—me included? Mary did her part all right, Jim—but the whole idea of my selling those pearls to Noah Lathrop was yours—any thanks that Tim Lannigan is handing out is due you. And I’m going to tell him so.”
Jim regarded him gravely. “You’re gonna keep your mouth shut, Teddy. Shut tight. One yawp out of you to either Tim or Mary about that and by Gosh! I'll turn you and Lathrop both up. Which might not be so hard on you, Teddy—but would be hell on Lathrop—him owning three automobiles.”